In the 1985 movie “Brewster’s Millions,” Richard Pryor plays a guy who has to spend $30 million in 30 days so he can inherit $300 million from his late uncle. Pryor’s character (Montgomery Brewster) finds out it is harder than one might think to burn through a cool mil.
Apparently, he’s never vacationed in Jackson Hole.
Young couples moving to Jackson is more like the movie “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” but that’s story for another day.
Sticking with the daunting idea of spending a week or more in the tiny Yellowstone gateway town of Jackson, let’s explore every cost-saving tip that might make it a trip doable without breaking the bank.
Timing Is Everything
Your personal visitation experience in Jackson Hole will have a lot to do with timing. TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like are peppered with one-star reviews from flatlanders suffering from sticker shock on their Griswold family station wagon vacation in, say, July.
“Holy sh*t, is this place busy!”
“For f#*@%s sake is this place expensive!”
“Traffic is next level ... and we live in Southern California.”
Reviews of Jackson in summer can be brutal.
Looking at summer in 2024? You’ll need your hotel booked a year out. Dinner reservations should be made at least a month in advance. And the closest parking space available for anything larger than a Mini Cooper might realistically be Farson, Wyoming.
Expect everything to be sold out, from seats at the rodeo to hamburger buns at the grocery store.
For four intense months — June, July, August and September — Teton County operates far beyond max carrying capacity.
A town infrastructure designed for a population of 10,000 hosts 10 times that every day, four million visitors annually.
The escalated body count in summer means more demand. That turns the wheels of free-market capitalism. That $125-a-night shady motel room in November is $999 or more in July.
And leave the massive camper at home. Jackson is not an RV kind of town.
The one full-service RV campground Jackson had was bought recently by the town itself at the price of (and we are not exaggerating) $28 million for five acres of barren ground and about nine picnic tables.
The idea is to make the property into an affordable housing apartment complex to ensure there are plenty of worker drones living locally to fold sheets and take your drink order.
Shoulder season travel is highly advisable when it comes to visitation to Jackson Hole. By far, autumn is the better season than spring. You have the fall colors, wildlife activity is at its peak with deer migration, elk rut and bear hyperphagia.
Kids and crowds are gone and everything from rafting trips to horseback riding becomes a bit more affordable.
A good many in-the-know visitors have discovered this, however, and Jackson Hole remains in fairly high demand through at least half of October.
Weather stays nice, it is usually dry with comfortable daily highs into the upper 60s, and overnight lows are a crisp and exhilarating 35-ish degrees.
By Halloween, all bets are off with the weather. Most Jackson kids know to dress as something that could double as insulation or fit over a costume for trick-or-treating. Dinosaurs, hockey players or any character from “Frozen” are quite popular.
By November, you’ll want to be gone. Everyone else is until the snow flies and ski season gets underway.
Spring shoulder season consists of late-March and April, and even locals leave town. Most restaurants and hotels completely shutter for the month and we won’t even pretend Teton County is worth seeing in April.
Where To Stay In Jackson?
The first tip: Don't stay there.
We know, it sounds like an admission of defeat. But truly, many savvy lodgers are not prepared to shell out $500-plus a night to stay in the town of Jackson or its equally spendy cousin, Teton Village.
While there is a plethora of beds in the community, admittedly sometimes running at 95% occupancy, and literally countless Vrbo rentals — both legally and illegally operating — supply cannot keep pace with demand.
The result has hoteliers making bank and lodgers penning poor reviews if they encounter so much as a spider or a lumpy mattress.
Pinedale has become the community of choice for many priced out of Jackson. It’s 77 miles away.
Drivable in about 80 minutes in perfect traffic conditions when it is not heavily trafficked or heavily snowed upon, which is to say never.
Rooms at the Best Western in Pinedale, for instance, hover around $100 off-peak — twice that in summer — but far below the going rate up north.
Under-the-radar lodging choices like hostels and glamping are not really that affordable, if available at all.
Glamping, which is a more expensive way to say sleeping in a tent, runs $498 a night at Glamping of Jackson Hole.
For that much you could get a deluxe harbor room in Four Seasons Hong Kong or a suite at the Hôtel San Régis along Paris' famed Champs Elysées.
The Hostel at Teton Village (14 miles from Jackson) is $109 in October. In winter and summer peak, the same rooms are $219, but they do come with “heating and portable fans,” according to the website. You’ll share a bathroom, and the TV and fridge are in a common area.
Camping is an option in Jackson Hole, particularly if you are able to “boondock,” as they say.
Tents, pop-ups and those not requiring full hookups with power and water will find abundant opportunities, even when town is slammed like Fourth of July weekend.
More on camping later.
Money’s No Object?
If you’re up for breaking the bank, Jackson Hole will be happy to accommodate.
Four-figure overnight stays can be found downtown at Jackson’s newest hotel, The Cloudveil (more than $1,000 in summer but just $300 in November).
Hotel Jackson rates are $429 in November and April, but you won't get near the place in summer for under a grand.
The Wort is Jackson’s oldest and most nostalgic stay. Hollywood stars Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur shacked up there while shooting the motion picture “Shane” in the early 1950s.
Rates are rock-bottom low in November and April ($274), skyrocketing to $819 for select weekends in summer.
Out at Teton Village, get pampered at Four Seasons Jackson Hole for around $679 in October and $585 in November. That’s cut-rate cheap considering basic rooms start at $1,500 in summer and $1,800 in winter for slopeside ski-in, ski-out stays.
Amangani has them all beat. Rates there don't vary much by the calendar. They’re nosebleed all day, every day.
A room there will run you $1,800 now ($3,100 for a suite) and $2,100 ($3,200 for a suite) in peak summer season. Amangani also isn’t open for most of November and nearly all of spring.
Doable, But Book Early
Jackson’s motor inn days are long gone. Most motels have rebranded and upscaled, but there are still a few affordable options as long as you don't get caught booking the same day.
Places like the Anvil Hotel ($275 now, $128 in November, $118 April, and as high as $599 on select weekends in summer peak), Virginian Lodge ($269 now, $143 in November, $164 in April, and $509 select weekends in summer peak), and Flat Creek Inn ($155 now, $113 in November, $130 in April, and $387 on select weekends in summer peak) are reasonable for Jackson.
Our two favorites?
The recently renovated Mountain Modern Motel ($240 now, $122 in November, $112 in April, and $535 on select weekends in summer peak) and the stand-alone cabins at Cowboy Village Resort ($220 now, $133 in November, $141 in April, and $374 during summer peak) are both walkable to downtown Jackson.
Look, you’re probably here for the great outdoors, right? Cut out the exorbitant lodging portion of your budget almost entirely and set up camp on the outskirts of town.
One of the perks of Jackson (and why locals love it) is the forest is right out the back door.
Raging rivers, soaring mountains and wild animals are minutes away from the bustle of downtown.
Organized campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park run $13-$35 per night for tents, and $60 or more for RVs. Campsites are reservation only beginning six months out.
Car camping or sleeping overnight in vehicles is not allowed in park pullouts, parking areas, picnic grounds or any place other than a designated campground.
Campgrounds in the Bridger-Teton National Forest are a mix of formalized campgrounds and dispersed camping virtually anywhere within its 3.4 million acres.
Improved camping in designated sites is available for $12-$15 a night late May through early September. Most are first-come, first-served. With these sites you’ll get bathrooms and usually potable water.
Dispersed camping is available to anyone who is prepared to rough it. Feel free to pitch a tent or park the Subaru anywhere that tickles your fancy. Stay limits are capped at two weeks, after which campers must move at least five miles from their original site.
Need to be near town for shopping and night life? We suggest the Gros Ventre Wilderness. North of Jackson, east of the airport, the Gros Ventre is a short drive through the tiny berg of Kelly.
There are endless idyllic spots complete with existing rock rings for your nightly campfire.
Also worth checking out is Granite Hot Springs and Cliff Creek south of town for plentiful camping virtually anywhere off the gravel road. Greys River has tons of camping opportunities as well, south of Jackson near Alpine.
Be aware, camping in October means you will share the forest with hunters. Wear blaze orange when hiking or fly fishing. Also, nights will get chilly. The bowl of water you leave out for the dog will freeze over.
No one should go hungry in Jackson Hole. The valley boasts at least 100 eateries. Restaurants, cafes, bar and grills — from pizza to prawns — Jackson, Wilson or Teton Village has you covered.
Michelin-rated, Beard-awarded — Teton County has it all.
Again, fine dining on a weekend during summer will require reservations or a cousin in the kitchen. But the sheer number of restaurants will pretty much guarantee a seat somewhere with above-average cuisine.
Service will be the only variable. In July, your server might disappear for 45 minutes between drink orders and schlepping apps to the table.
Not long ago, two of Jackson’s most popular establishments, Local and Trio, simply closed down on Saturdays while others drastically reduced hours due to lack of employees available to serve hordes of hungry diners.
Autumn dining is not nearly as hectic as long as your favorite spot is open. Many restaurants go dark in November and April.
Whether you need your rosemary braised lamb-shank paired with that perfect imported vino or you are looking for a local hoppy IPA to wash down your killer 100% bison burger, Jackson feeds its tourists like no other town.
Can't Beat The Eats
Say what you will about Jackson, they’ve heard all the jokes about how it’s not really part of Wyoming ... yada, yada.
The upside of the downgrade is the cuisine — five-star executive chef creations to the best burger and beer in the Rockies, and everything in between.
Like your noodles and rice? King Sushi, BAPP Korean Restaurant, Annie’s Thai Kitchen or Suda Japanese are go-to places for locals.
Jackson boasts tons of hipster coffee shop vibes. East end Persephone is always packed thanks to its popularity with bona fide celebrities, but the baked goods are legit.
There’s also Picnic for the west-enders, Pearl Street Bagels for the old school locals and Cowboy Coffee for new school locals. All are good for a morning brew, baked treat and chit chat.
For a real sit-down breakfast, the Nora’s Fish Creek Inn (in nearby Wilson) is a destination for its huevos rancheros ($16) and the $9 pancake is worth every penny. The secret to its fluffiness, they say, is a little bit of added beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon) for the carbonation.
Café Genevieve, located in a historic old cabin in east Jackson, is hearty home cookin’ with excellent service. Tip: Order the fried chicken and waffles with a bloody Mary.
Other breakfast spots include the Virginian for locals, and the Bunnery for tourists.
Feeding the family? Liberty Burger, Merry Piglets (Tex-Mex), and Bubbas BBQ are all reasonably priced for lunch or an early dinner.
Sports bar grub and a game is available at Cutty’s Bar and Grill where the Philly cheesesteak ($16.25) is insane. And there’s Sidewinders where their famous stuffed pretzel ($12) was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.”
The grab-and-go sandwich scene is dominated by Creekside Market, Sweet Cheeks Meats aand New York City Sub Shop. All are great choices.
Pizza: Pinky G’s (NYC-styled) and Hand Fire (the freshest ingredients).
Italian: Glorietta Trattoria (Jackson), Calico (Wilson) and Il Villaggio Osteria (Teton Village) are all great choices.
Mexican: El Abuelito, Hatch Taqueria & Tequilas, and KALU.
Break-the-bank: If you’re looking to impress your guests, try Bin22 (Mediterranean with fabulous wine selection) and Snake River Grill (book two months in advance).
The Bistro (inside The Cloudveil Hotel), Blue Lion and Local are also impeccable fine dining options.
Culture Up The Wazoo
Jackson also is a mecca for the arts. Painters, sculptors, singers, dancers, actors. Audiences will relish the vast choices of live entertainment. From art galleries to nightly concerts, Jackson buzzes when the sun goes down.
Nightlife trails off some in autumn but there is still plenty to punch your dance card with.
This weekend alone, catch Cowgirls at the Cowboy featuring a concert by headliner country superstar Lauren Alaina at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Mexican culture abounds at Center for the Arts with a one-night only Mariachi Garibaldi event on Monday.
And the annual Farm to Fork Festival, which is free, is sure to provide delicious samples all holiday weekend.
National Museum of Wildlife Art is a 51,000-square-foot wonder housing some of the finest works of wildlife art anywhere in the world.
The Jackson Hole Playhouse is the place for live theatre nightly. The summer show just ended, but “Haunting in Halloween runs Oct. 13-31.
Jackson’s only local live theatre troupe, Off Square Theatre Co., is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special musical Oct. 14 featuring local talent as well as Broadway performers Blaine Alden Krauss and Jessica Hendy.
See you soon, pardner! And bring your platinum card.